Graceful Salt: Achieving Balance as a Talk Show Host in the Face of Controversy

Posted on March 14, 2011. Filed under: Commentary, Personal Growth and Freedom | Tags: , , , |

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Commentary: Second, the wise community, eager to proclaim the gospel, engages the lost in conversation [that is] full of grace, seasoned with salt. This last phrase, so graphic and memorable, captures the wisdom of ancient rhetoric: ideological substance without personal style fails to convince people. If a believer, who has a wonderful story of conversion to tell, cannot tell it in a “salty,” interesting way, the story will not be heard. Of course, lively stories, like “fine-sounding arguments,” are sometimes used in the service of lifeless substance.

Colossians 4:6 (New International Version)

As a talk radio host it is often times an interesting journey of learning and insight, emotion and factual accounting with a dash of reckoning, where your focus is upon engaging, sometimes enraging, but always entertaining an audience within the framework of thorough research versus baseless pontification.  In fact a key tenet of being a good host, at least for me, is to show both the guest and the listening audience the respect they are due for their taking the time to share the virtual airwaves during a broadcast.  The only way you can do this is to have a passion for the subject matter that is being discussed and, taking the time to thoroughly understand the key elements of the topic.  In essence, doing your homework and asking questions from a unique standpoint that opens up previously uncharted avenues of perspective.

I recently thought about this value system for hosting following a contentious show in which the questions that were posed stirred up a great deal of controversy surrounding the building of the Ground Zero Mosque.  What was most interesting as well as challenging, was the recognition that people relate on so many different levels both emotionally and intellectually.  In other words, one can feel completely justified in their beliefs even if a factual foundation is absent from the equation.

As someone who is interested in everything and will therefore spend significant amounts of time in research mode to gain a collective understanding of the seemingly disparate and at times contradictory elements of a particular story, it is challenging to simply turn off the intellectual aspects of a debate and cede to the emotional irrationalizing that sometimes fuels certain viewpoints.  Now do not get me wrong here, I am not suggesting that emotions have no place in a discussion, nor am I suggesting a detached intellectualism that is tantamount to academic condescension.  What I am talking about is having the ability to support a position that blends a strength of conviction with a factual foundation while still maintaining a generous civility – even in disagreement.

It is within this context of a generous civility that Colossians 4:6 spoke to me.

In this light of revelation, I realized that a generous civility does not preclude one from asking the tough questions – nor for that matter answering them.  Nor does it mean that you have to surrender a position of belief when faced with heavy opposition to a particular viewpoint.  In and of itself, controversy and spirited discussion are indeed the salt of a conversation that makes it worthwhile for one to be a part whether as a host, guest or listener.  What is important is the aforementioned civility that manifests itself in a respectful dialogue in which there is an absence of malice or ill intent.  In short, maintaining both a graciousness and gracefulness of spirit when debating a subject will lead, if not to an accord, at least to a better understanding of another person’s position.

I think this is what I had found so troubling with two recent broadcasts including the aforementioned segment on the Ground Zero Mosque, as well as an earlier discussion regarding The Tender Years Doctrine.  In both instances, when confronted by questions that were logically researched and civilly presented, advocates for a particular point of view became increasingly hostile and threatening, hurling insults that in some instances were beyond comprehension simply because they were being challenged to clarify the basis for for their said beliefs.  In essence bullying versus substantiating, threatening and insulting versus engaging in a meaningful and productive manner.

In fact, in one instance a member of our guest panel expressed concern that they were reluctant to openly state their opinion for fear that they would be hounded or stalked by either the individual or the group to which the person belonged, for no other reason than verbalizing their disagreement with the listener’s position.  Apparently, the panelist had encountered this group before.

More recently, a host from another show indicated that they were uncomfortable with discussing contentious issues on air as they were caught somewhat off-guard by the flurry of negative epithets that were hurled at them by a small but vociferous group who used terms such as waiting in the bushes and setting your house on fire as intimidating analogies for supporting their beliefs.

Suffice to say, and in either instance I understand both the uneasiness and apprehension of continuing down a path that might ignite a rhetorical storm of threats and insults in which there is a fear that one’s brand might be harmed if not directly then indirectly by the distracting harassment of extremist elements.  This is perhaps what is so disconcerting about the Westboro bunch, whose conduct is anything but civil.

But here’s the thing, and bearing in mind that this is a personal decision in which there is no shame in walking away should one be moved to do so, I truly believe in the John Philpot Curran saying (although some have attributed it to Edmund Burke), that All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

As a host, this does not mean that you have to be randomly combative.  Nor does it mean that when confronted with a contentious soul you have to resort to strong arm tactics centered on derision or a pursuing ridicule.  What it means is that after you do your homework, giving guest, audience and subject matter their due respect, you can passionately yet graciously take a stand whether it be in the form of a tough line of questioning or choosing what may not necessarily be the most popular course of discussion for some.

This to me is the epitome of Colossians 4:6 . . . a gracious salt if you will in which you find that balance between controversy and respectful conduct, passion and civility, knowledge and understanding.

This of course is the ideal guideline for creating and maintaining the needed checks and balance in any discussion, debate or disagreement for all involved parties, myself included.

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